Google Analytics 4 Vs Universal Analytics: Key Differences

Around the end of 2020, Google released Google Analytics 4 (GA4), an improved version of web analytics platform to replace its previous version of Universal Analytics. Companies have time till July 1, 2023 to switch to GA4, and Google plans to deprecate Universal Analytics after July 1, 2023.

You might have some doubts about this decision. To address those concerns, I will be discussing all the major differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics. I am sure that this will clear up some of your doubts about the credibility of these decisions. 

1. Reporting Interface 

The GA4 reporting screen may appear overwhelming at first appearance, as most of the statistics and metrics you're used to are missing. They've been either taken out or replaced. 

Since GA4 offers a distinct collection of reports than UA, you can expect some new upgrades on the quality of insights on this new version.  

In your GA4 view, you'll see a variety of reports, although there won't be many. This is due to the fact that many of the reports are only generated once you begin analyzing your data.  The GA4 view's monitoring layout resembles that of Google Analytics for Firebase. However, it differs significantly from any UA tracking perspective. 

2. Measurement Model 

GA3 (also known as Universal Analytics) employs a session and page view-based evaluation strategy. GA3 tracks data using a session-based approach, which implies that it captures and retains info such as the number of visitors, activities, payments, or any other action done by the customer over a period of time. 

GA4, on the other hand, employs a monitoring model focused on events and attributes. GA4 will even consider a page visit as an event, which implies that GA4 tracks data using an event-based paradigm.

Every action done by the viewer in GA4 will be regarded as an event, so you can have more specific details available for those events. For instance, if you're viewing a “page view” as an event, then you can see details like the name of the page, location of the visitors, time spent on the page, and much more.  

3. View Points and Data Streams

In Universal Analytics, you have the freedom to create views, according to your requirements. In GA4, you don't have the functionality to build new views in GA4. However, you could use Data Streams and Filters to focus on the relevant data.

4. Event Tracking

While using the GA3 or Universal Analytics, all events that are to be tracked strictly follow the category-action-label-value model. However, unlike in GA3, you can get better flexibility for the event tracking model in GA4.  

As you can also add some additional variables to the event model. GA4 does not have an occasion type, action, or labeling, but it does record the four types of events: 

  • Automatically acquired events  
  • Enhanced event measurement 
  • Events via Recommendations
  • Customized events 

 Automatically acquired events and Improved measurement events are the only two event types that do not necessitate any modifications in the coding on the web page or the application. 

If the web page uses gtag.js explicitly on the webpage or through Google Tag Manager, these events are immediately collected. You can transmit up to around 25 custom variables or parameters for every event, each with a maximum length of 100 characters. 

In the GA4 tools, there are a maximum of 500 distinct event labels. If you still want to create new events after using up your quota, then you have to archive the ones you don't need at the moment.  

5. Automation in Event Tracking 

A GA4 property includes an "Enhanced measurement feature" that provides for automated recording of specific events (such as scrolling, media monitoring, leave tracking, website search tracking, and so on). And, you don't need any extra coding to use this feature.  

No code modifications are necessary for automatically acquired events, since the events will be recorded immediately if the page, you're tracking uses gtag.js. 

You can now enable robust event tracking across all marketing platforms thanks to improved assessment tracking. You can also be able to track your apps, which includes the first openings of your apps or all the transactions within your app, and so on.  

From the four-event categories of GA4, I have discussed earlier, Enhanced measurement events and automatically acquired events will not require any modification in the coding. However, for the events via recommendations and customized events, you have to make some changes.  

It will be beneficial for you to double-check whether your event reporting requirements can be covered by automatically acquired events or improvement events, before implementing the customized events. 

The automated and improved events have the convenience of being automatically signed in, while suggested events provide the benefit of transferring suitability, which you can't get for the custom events. 

Custom events should only be used if existing event types do not meet your requirements. However, you couldn't have enjoyed all these functionalities in the previous version of GA3.

6. Retention of User Data

In Google Analytics, you can choose how long you want to keep a user's data in your system. So, if that user gets inactive for a long period of time, you can avoid having any unnecessary details about that person. The use and data retention feature of google analytics will automatically delete that information after a specified time span.

In the GA3 version, you were getting options, since you could choose from 14 months, 26 months, 38 months, and 50 months. You can also choose not to delete that data in the first place.

However, in the GA4 version, you can only opt for between 2 months or 14 months.

7. Cross-Platform Tracking

GA4 gives advertisers a method to pursue people across applications and websites because it is focused on app+web data. This is designed with the intention of incorporating powerful machine learning tools, which will instantly display relevant data to the marketers.

In the instance of GA4, the web and app content are both stored in the same structure.  

However, in the GA3 version, this is not the case.

Therefore, the inter-platform tracking features of GA4 are far more reliable than that of GA3.

8. Custom Dimensions

While using the GA3 version, you can alter the domain of your custom dimension to one of the four scopes: " Hit ", " Session ", " User ", or " Product ".

In the case of GA4, you will not find any " Hit " scope in the custom dimension, as in its place you can find the " Event " scope. Moreover, GA4 also allows you to add any types of custom dimension using the " User " scope.

9. Metrics for Engagements

GA4's dashboard view introduces a unique set of interaction measures. Some of the new metrics include engagement sessions, Interaction Rate, number of interactions per customer, duration of participation, and much more. 

 These metrics are far more reliable than GA3's webpage visits and bounce rate statistics, for tracking the engagements of the users. However, the GA4 version doesn't have any variables around bound rates, but you can figure it out via the engagement durations of your customers.

10. IP Anonymization

You can have reporting metrics on GPS information, and Google Analytics tracks and retains the IP addresses of your web page visitors. However, it does not include IP addresses directly in its reports.

If your confidentiality or state privacy rights prohibit the keeping of full IP addresses, you could implement the IP anonymization tool to hide or conceal the IP addresses of your online customers.

You can immediately remove the last three characters of your visitor's IP addresses by using this tool. While using a GA3 property, you can choose whether you want to disable or enable this feature. However, in the case of GA4, this feature is built-in, and you can't disable it.

11. Spam Data Prevention

If you have used Universal Analytics, you might know about the issue of spam referrals, as earlier anyone could create spam hits by using the GA assessment protocol.

The issue of spam hits has been solved in Google Analytics 4 by requiring the private key to be included in measuring protocol hits. This key is only accessible to people with analytical property permission, and it is not visible to the general public. Only hits that have a valid key can submit data to a Google Analytics 4 property.

12. Advanced Google Analytics Reports

The new version of GA4 has introduced a fresh set of reports called 'Analysis', and it has a deeper statistical perspective than GA3. If you have previously used Firebase UI, then you will find various similarities with the UI of GA4. This new analytical approach will help to get a better understanding of our customer journey, across all your marketing streams.

Apart from that, GA4 gives you a lot of alternatives, such as creating custom funnels and analyzing possible overlapping sections to avoid you from making any hasty judgments regarding your marketing strategies.

In the case of GA4, all its users can enjoy the benefits of advanced analytics, however, in the case of GA3, only users who subscribe to GA 360 have access to these features.

Final Thoughts

Overall, there are some significant improvements in GA4, from its previous version of Universal Analytics. Therefore, make sure to go through all its differences thoroughly before making the switch. In case you have any further queries feel free to contact us. We will be there by your side to answer all your concerns.